Reclaiming Awesome (a word-choice rant)

The other night, I made some blueberry-banana pancakes. They were awesome.

Only one of those two sentences is correct. Well, they’re both grammatically correct, but there’s still a problem with the second one. The problem is my usage of that word: “awesome.” I feel like this word has become overused to the point of being misused. It only takes a look at where the word comes from to see this.

“Awesome” clearly comes from “awe,” defined as “a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder.” Let’s take these one at a time. Do you respect blueberry-banana pancakes? Revere? Do you have fear or wonderment towards them? No, of course not. “Awe” is a feeling one has towards a roaring thunderstorm, the view from a high mountaintop, or, on a much grander scale, God. Something that is awesome is beautiful and powerful. It’s something that is gentle and dangerous. It’s something that fills you with wonder. Look up “awesome” in the thesaurus, and you’ll find it in the company of words like “stunning,” “staggering,” and “dreaded.”

Awesome things can be bad. They can inspire fear. The phrase “awesome destruction” is not contradictory, oxymoronic, or paradoxical. In fact, it’s just as correct as saying “awesome beauty.” Both those things fill you with wonder. They both inspire awe.

Of course, some would argue that words change meanings over time. In general, they’d be correct. The way “awesome” is used has changed, but more specifically it has been watered down. By changing the meaning over time, we really lose the way to express the unique trait that “awesome” can be. It becomes just like a number of other words, any of which do their job well enough with the help of “awesome.” My opening sentence is a true story. I really did make blueberry-banana pancakes, and they were fantastic. Great. Delightful. Superb (well, maybe not. I’ll work on them some more, and hopefully get there…).

But not “awesome.”

From this point on, if you catch me misusing that word, you have permission to punch me in the face. But in a brotherly way.

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About thomasbwhite
Writing, Photography, Jamming, Violin-ing, Hiking, Musing, Reading, Learning, Sketching, Frisbee-ing, Rambling... just a few of my favorite things.

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